Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 9 April 2020

Libyans fleeing conflict risk repatriation by Italy’s populist government

Repatriation of seventeen rescued Libyan migrants may set a dangerous precedent

A rescuer from the Migrant Offshore Aid Station ‘Phoenix’ vessel reaches to pull a man out of the Mediterranean Sea off Lampedusa, Italy. Getty Images
A rescuer from the Migrant Offshore Aid Station ‘Phoenix’ vessel reaches to pull a man out of the Mediterranean Sea off Lampedusa, Italy. Getty Images

Seventy migrants were rescued by the Italian coastguard on Thursday and brought to the island of Lampedusa, from which populist Interior Minister Matteo Salvini says they will be repatriated.

“We are working to expel the 70 illegal migrants who have arrived at Lampedusa in the next few hours,” Mr Salvini said.

Among the rescued migrants, 17 are thought to be Libyan nationals fleeing renewed fighting in Tripoli. Italian media have highlighted the fact that these arrivals may be a harbinger of more to come.

The Interior Minister, who heads the populist League party, sought to reassure his voters. “For the time being, we do not fear an increase in the number of migrant departures from Libya due to the conflict, but the situation is under constant monitoring,” he said.

While Mr Salvini vowed to conduct prompt repatriations, procedures in accordance to international treaties may take months to be completed. Italy and the EU have so far considered Libya to be a “safe port”, despite compelling evidence of torture and rape in migrant detention centres.

More than 8,000 people have fled Tripoli and the surrounding area since fighting between rival groups flared up in recent days. Thousands of refugees held in detention centres in Libya capital are in serious danger after becoming trapped, rights groups have warned.

Should Mr Salvini be able to fulfil his promise and repatriate all migrants, critics say this may set a precedent that crosses the line on human rights.

Sixty-two migrants aboard another rescue boat, operated by the German NGO Sea-Eye, are currently stranded in the Mediterranean Sea as they await permission to disembark.

The migrants and refugees were rescued from a dinghy off Libya on 3 April and have been at sea since, amid concerns over the wellbeing of the passengers and crew as water and food supplies run out.

Mr Salvini has refused to let the boat - called the Alan Kurdi - dock in Italy and claimed Berlin should take in the migrants rescued by the German NGO.

A Sea-Eye spokeswoman said conditions on board were unsustainable. The German government has asked the European commission to coordinate the handling of the Alan Kurdi to ensure the ship can arrive at a safe harbour.

Mr Salvini faces charges in Italy for “kidnapping” after he refused the docking of a rescue boat last summer. He claims the European Union, rather than Italy, should be responsible for taking migrants in.

Updated: April 12, 2019 02:39 PM



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